Pick n Mix Returns - One Year Before The MAC Opens for Business

Pick n Mix comes to Queen's Film Theatre, whilst curators visit Venice - let the Mactivities commence!

With the opening date set for March 2011, preparations for The MAC’s inaugural programme are well under way. A partnership with The Tate is likely to result in a world-class opening exhibition, and, continuing with the OMAC’s remit of working closely with Northern Irish theatre and dance companies, productions in the arts centre’s theatre spaces are sure to feature some familiar faces.

For the time being, however, it’s all about promoting the building to a global audience. Because, as Chief Executive Anne McReynolds explains, ‘There really aren’t many other arts venues around the world that are anything like it.’

The unique selling points are thus: three gallery spaces (climate controlled and large enough to host ‘blockbuster’ exhibits), two theatre spaces, a dance studio, café, rehearsal rooms, office space and a redbrick entrance hall that will recall the homely vibe of the Old Museum Arts Centre (The MAC’s former guise).

All of this will be housed, of course, within a six-story, £18m building designed by upcoming Belfast architects, Hall & McKnight, which is still under construction but taking shape day and daily.

The trouble is, do people know enough about what's inside? Earlier in the year, The MAC released an animated video tour of the building, presented by Sean Bean. As an online promotional tool, it works very well, giving the viewer a sense of the finished building’s huge size, layout and aesthetic. But the promotional efforts have not stopped there.

On May 31, Hugh Mulholland, Curatorial Assistant at The MAC, will travel with McReynolds and others to gatecrash the 2011 Venice Biennale. A lack of funding has meant that there will be no official Northern Irish exhibit at the biennale, but The MAC have ensured that there will be a presence. Mulholland thinks that Venice is the perfect shop front from which to sell The MAC to the international art world.

‘It’s very important that we do this work, and that we position The MAC very early on,’ says Mullholand. ‘It’s about making connections with those people who we may work with in the future. But we wanted to do it in a clever way. It’s interesting to try to pitch something that will get [the world’s] attention.’

That something is a book, entitled Let's Visit the Arts Centre (pictured above), produced by the artists at Factotum and illustrator, David Haughey. In it, a young boy enters a gallery (The MAC) with his father, who explains the concept of the gallery space and introduces him to the wonders of the building around it.

Mulholland et al will showcase the book (along with other works by Factotum and Haughey) in La Casa di Corto Maltese, a museum dedicated to the work of the Italian illustrator, Hugo Pratt. ‘Venice really is the best place to do that kind of profiling work,’ Mulholland beams.

Copies of the book will subsequently be sent out to selected schools in Northern Ireland, as a way of continuing the promotional campaign on home soil. And then there is the return of the Pick n Mix Mini Festival, a series of short plays, rehearsed readings and other live performances squeezed into two days.

Loyal fans of the OMAC adored Pick n Mix - but the cozy OMAC building was just too outdated an environment in which to continue. Keen to retain those fans, however, the Pick n Mix Mini Festival makes a welcome return (after a year’s hiatus) this June in pop-up form - that is, before its permanent home opens its doors in early 2012.

‘Pick n Mix will be hosted by Queen's Film Theatre this year,' says McReynolds. 'We work in partnership with every new, emerging and established performing artist - theatre companies, dance companies, musicians - all across a really broad spectrum in Northern Ireland, because that’s part of our ethos, and Pick n Mix is a central part of that.

‘Pick n Mix brings together all of the theatre companies, from Tinderbox to Bruiser, and allows us to help give value and support to some of the fantastic work that goes on here, sometimes all too quietly.’

Watch a promotional video for the 2011 Pop-Up Pick n Mix Mini Festival below, and keep an eye on Culture Northern Ireland in the months ahead for emerging news on one of Europe's most exciting new arts venues.

Pick n Mix Festival is on from 17-19 June.